It’s the time of year for gathering with friends and family, so I invited my good friend and fellow author, David Lee Summers, and his wife, over for dinner. No, David doesn’t write contemporary romance. He writes steampunk, science fiction, and horror, so naturally the conversation turned to fiction writing, and famous fictional characters. We got to talking about Star Wars.
I love Star Wars. I saw the first one on the big screen a few weeks after it premiered, and it was amazing. To me, it was sort of like a sci-fi version of Camelot, complete with knights, a princess, and an evil wizard. What made the story work was the characters. We talked about how well all the characters were thought out and developed. Then came the prequels. (Not bad. Not great, but not bad.) After that came Disney. Ugh! Suffice to say the rest of the conversation was about the importance of character arcs and consistency in storytelling.
So, what can I say? Some people get together and discuss sports, current events, or politics. Get storytellers together, and we’ll sit around and analyze famous, iconic characters, and talk about what makes them work. Our inspiration often comes from other storytellers.
The other day I read an article about the classic John Steinbeck novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Along with a synopsis of the story, it went on to describe the various symbolic meanings throughout about the book. Some authors like to use fiction as a metaphor, and there were certainly political undertones in Steinbeck’s work. However, not all fiction writers do this. What I find amusing, however, is when people think there is a hidden meaning in a story when, in fact, there isn’t.
Sometimes blue simply means blue
I recall a meme on social media poking fun at how people assume authors always include hidden meanings in their work. It talked about an author mentioning blue curtains because blue symbolized blah, blah, blah. The punchline, however, was that the author simply liked blue. There was no hidden meaning.
I don’t include a lot of symbolism in my work. My genre, contemporary romance, is pretty straightforward. Boy meets girl. They fall in love, but they have obstacles to overcome before they can get to happily ever after. However, there are no political undertones or hidden messages in my stories. My sole purpose is to entertain the reader. That said, it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a little fun from time to time.
Okay, maybe just a little, but not too often
In The Deception, Scott is a married man who presents himself as a single man to unsuspecting single women. Early in the story he takes Carrie out for a drive, so I made his car a Chevy. No hidden meaning there. Chevrolet is a popular make of car. But then, just for laughs, I described it as being bright red, to represent Scott’s infidelity. Yes, it was a veiled reference to The Scarlet Letter, and yes, it was a little corny. Sometimes I can’t resist having a little fun.
On a more serious note, those who know me in real life know I’m a very spiritual person. I also happen to know people who’ve had what they believe to be angelic encounters. My father was one of them. So, in two of my novels, a character has what some might interpret as an angelic encounter. The reason I’m emphasizing the word might is because not everyone believes in a higher power. Therefore, I wrote those scenes in such a way that readers could also interpret them as a character interacting with a compassionate stranger. I’ve left it to the readers to decide for themselves. The above mentioned is all the symbolism I’ve used so far. I guess I’m more of a what you see is what you get kind of storyteller.
We’re all unique individuals. No two people see the same thing the exact same way. It’s all subject to our own life’s experiences. However, before jumping to conclusions about hidden meanings in a story, particularly if it’s something negative, remember what I said before. Maybe the author brought up the blue curtains simply because it’s the author’s favorite color.
People sometimes ask novel writers questions which may seem condescending, although most of them don’t mean it in a negative way. They’ve simply never met an author before. A question I often hear is have I been published yet? The answer is yes, I’m published.
My publishing journey
The publishing industry changed dramatically in the late 20th century. The invention of the personal computer and the World Wide Web gave authors options they’d never had before, and the big publishing houses no longer dominated the industry.
I was a freelance graphic designer when this new technology came along. Most of my projects were designing magazines and catalogs. It was sort of fun, but it was never my passion. I loved creating fine art. I also loved writing, and I was ready for a career change.
In 2006 I wrote the first in a trilogy of historic novelettes for young readers. (Under a different name.) I also got lucky. I happened to meet a small press publisher who was very selective about who she published. Thankfully, she accepted my manuscript, and she soon became more than just a publisher. She was also my mentor. After publishing the third and final book in the Luke and Jenny series I was ready to start writing full length contemporary romance novels for adult readers. At the same time, however, my publisher was changing her business model to specialize in children’s books. We talked it over, and we both agreed that I was ready to start up my own publishing company. So I created Good Oak Press, LLC.
Why I choose to remain an independent author
With traditional publishing the author sells the rights to his or her work to the publisher. This means the author no longer owns their work. It now belongs to the publisher, and the publishing company can do whatever it pleases. Oftentimes this means the work is edited to the point where the author no longer recognizes it. Their name may still be attached to it, but it’s a far cry from what the author actually wrote. The other problem with traditional publishing is that it relies heavily on a premade formula. This limits the author’s creativity and forces him or her to work inside a small box.
A lot of thought goes into my contemporary romance novels. Each and every character has their own unique personality. Every bit of action and dialog is written for a reason. I also put a lot of thought into choosing my locations. If my story is set in Denver I don’t want someone changing it to Boston. If my character is a blonde named Erika I don’t want someone changing her into a brunette named Sarah. Each author has his or her own unique voice, and I don’t want anyone taking away my voice.
I take my work seriously. Not only is my name on the book, my publishing company’s name and logo is on it as well. I work with an amazing editor who understands me and doesn’t change my voice. A professional illustrator creates my cover art, and my graphic design skills sure come in handy. I know how to typeset and design a book. People often tell me my books look like they came from a big, New York publisher. This is the biggest and best compliment any reader can ever give me.
I was an avid reader long before I ever dreamed of becoming an author. In fact, I came from a family of readers. I’ll always remember my mother loaning me one of her books and telling me I had to read it. She said it was one of the best novels she had ever read. The book was The Shell Seekers. The author was Rosamunde Pilcher.
As soon as I started reading I was instantly pulled into the story and I couldn’t put it down. Such amazing, unforgettable characters. And even though it was a long book, I was sorry when the story finally came to its end. Since that time I’ve read other Rosamunde Pilcher novels, and all were amazing. Not only was she a gifted storyteller, her work inspired me to become a contemporary romance writer.
Sadly, I just heard the news that Ms. Pilcher has passed away. She will most certainly be missed.
That’s what a fellow author once said to me. Of course, she didn’t mean literally, although she had a point. She writes nonfiction, and her comment had to do with some of the things we novel writers do to our characters. She’s right. Some of the things we to our characters is just plain mean. Then again, some of those characters have it coming.
I was telling her about Scott, an antagonist in my contemporary romance novel, The Deception. Let’s face it. Scott isn’t the nicest guy on the planet. He’s a married man who puts himself out as a single guy, and his actions have hurt a lot of people, especially Carrie. Once Carrie and her friends realize Scott’s stories aren’t adding up she ditches him. I had originally planned on writing him out of the story at that point. However, readers would expect him to be held accountable for what he did, and they would be disappointed if he were able to simply walk away.
Scott is later arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, and he gets his comeuppance in the form of a humiliating strip search. I strive for accuracy when I write because I want my contemporary romance novels to be as realistic and believable as possible. This means I do a lot of research, so I told the nonfiction author that I went online and read testimonials by real people who’ve had this experience. I then based Scott’s story on those real-life accounts. That’s when she looked at me and said, “You novel writer’s are evil.”
Well, what can I say? She wrote a memoir. I write fiction.